Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Scampo at the Liberty Hotel: Of Cracklings, Beets and Homemade Pasta

Our waiter at Scampo sold us on the pasta by insisting that he loved the dish even though he "really didn't like beets."  I actually adore beets. Roasted in the oven and topped with olive oil and salt they are a perfect meal. Even for a beet lover, the egg pasta with beets and summer truffles at Scampo were a revelation.  The tender noodles were tossed with diced beets, slivers of beets and baby beets, as well as melted butter, lemon and so many slices of earthy truffles. It was topped with roasted seaweed, adding a subtle saltiness to the dish. Together the dish was a sweet and savory delight.  It is the dish that would woo me back to Scampo.
That wasn't the only pasta dish that we were still recalling the next day.  The simple sounding spaghetti with cracklings was over the top. Little fried cubes of porky goodness were nestled in olive oil and hot peppers. Each smoky, crunchy, chewy bite was heavenly. I would have loved the dish even more with ziti or shells that could easily hold the cracklings.
Another dish hit the mark as well.  I had read many positive review about the pork chop. But I was dismissive: how good could a pork chop really be? Well, it was that good: juicy, tender and burnished by the wood grill. I haven't eaten a pork chop in years and this just converted me. It was so huge that it lasted through dinner that night, and lunch the next day.  The only downside? The accompanying apple risotto was undercooked, too sweet and reminiscent of breakfast porridge. The dish would have fared far better with a seasonal green, like broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic.
That being said other dishes also offered tasty elements.  The green bean tempura was delicious and sweet having been blanched before frying.  We also loved the fava bean dip that came with salty, homemade Parmesan bread sticks as we sat down.
While we didn't love the almond milk dressing, the tender fried eggplant was perfect with the sweet homemade mozzarella.  This was one of many dishes that you can get from their mozzarella bar.
We also tried the famous lobster pizza.  The crust was reminiscent of a simple flatbread and coated with a creamy, sherry infused sauce. On top of that, chunks of sweet lobster.  It was good. But, truth be told: I am a lobster purist, craving a steamed lobster or a chilled lobster roll.
Desserts were...fine. The most memorable part? The freeze dried lemon (intended as a garnish to our lemon semifreddo!) that was tart and bitter and contrasted the dinner.  The semifreddo itself was too sweet, reminding me of the inside of a chilled key lime pie.
The chocolate dessert was also underwhelming.  It consisted of a chocolate mousse coated with a chocolate ganache and chocolate sprinkles.  Unfortunately none of the elements were calorie-worthy.  However, I couldn't stop spooning up the Guianduja ice cream. Creamy, nutty, not too sweet: it was lovely.
We enjoyed our starter drinks.  My companion had the Gara with bourbon, ginger liquer, lemon and mint while I had the Pompelmo with tequila, grapefruit, agave, lime and mint.  I loved my glass of red wine, a Supertuscan Querciabella Mongrana, which was tasted of berries.
Scampo is located in the Liberty Hotel. Ultimately the restaurant walks the boundary between the safety of a hotel restaurant and taking leaps of faith in the customers.  Tossing chunks of sweet beets on pasta and twirling them with lemon and seaweed was unique.  A chocolate mousse....simple.
Will I return? Possibly. The truth is that the pork chop was $36 and the lobster pizza was $26, which, at least in my world, is serious money.  I am incredibly grateful to Scampo for treating me and my dining companion to this meal.  I could, though, see myself heading to Scampo after a walk on the Boston Common or by the beautiful Charles. I could also envision a stop in for a bowl of the pasta or naan baked fresh in the wood burning oven while sitting at the bar.  I would also love to return on a Friday night for more pork as Scampo offers a WHOLE. SUCKLING. PIG!!!  While the atmosphere is too boisterous to qualify for a romantic, quiet evening, I will recommend Scampo to friends who want to head out for an evening of good food, an engaging scene and a perfect location.  Clearly, Scampo is a popular place for many people. The night we were there I saw a huge range of people, some clearly hotel guests and others locals, stopping in to share in the pasta, pizza and creations of Chef Lydia Shire. So, go, enjoy and save room for the cracklings.

Scampo, 215 Charles Street, at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.

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